Skip to main content


Volume 541: debated on Monday 27 February 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sure Start Children’s Centres

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that Sure Start children’s centres focus on the most disadvantaged families. (96382)

We published last year a new core purpose for children’s centres, which makes it clear that their core purpose is to improve outcomes for young children and their families, particularly for the most disadvantaged. Local authorities have statutory duties to provide sufficient children’s centres and to reduce inequalities. We are strengthening incentives to deliver the core purpose through revised statutory guidance, which we will publish shortly, through changes to Ofsted’s inspection framework and through payment by results. Children’s centres will also help families to access the new early education entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Sure Start centres such as the Sunshine centre in Banbury do excellent work. What possibility is there of children’s centres’ budgets being ring-fenced within the early intervention grant to provide some security to the centres and to the communities for whom they work, or what possibility is there of children’s centres being given the same option as schools—to become the equivalent of an academy and to receive their funding directly from the Government?

We took a decision to ensure that the measure was carried out locally because of the importance in early intervention of joining services together. Children’s centres, health services and other aspects of local authority provision are best done locally, and it is right and proper that local authorities make the decision about organisation, strategic planning and commissioning.

The Minister knows that even good local authorities such as mine in Kirklees, because they are not being given the resource by central Government, are being forced to modify the offer of children’s Sure Start centres. Is she not aware that even the most benign Government Member, particularly the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) who just asked that question, wants to take us back to the old Poor Law days, when there was one centre for poor people and other centres for others? That is not the way to provide good child care.

I think that everybody throughout the House agrees on the importance of early intervention. I accept that there may be differences of opinion on how we deliver it, but Government Members believe that the best way to do so is to devolve decisions to the local level. I do not think that the most disadvantaged families in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency would be best served by me attempting to run everything from my office in Whitehall.

20. I welcome the Minister’s announcements and comments on the issue, just as I welcome the extension of 15 hours of free education a week to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, but will she tell us what more we must do to help parents access affordable child care? Under the previous Government the cost of child care rose by 50% and the number of childminders dropped by one third. We have to do better. What does she think? (96402)

I absolutely recognise the points that the hon. Lady makes. Child care is a very difficult pressure on many families’ budgets, and that is precisely why we have invested so much extra money in the area. Despite the tight financial climate because of the mess that the previous Government left us, we have nevertheless invested significant extra money in enabling two-year-olds to access free early education—20% of two-year-olds by 2013 and 40% by 2014.

The Department’s Sure Start and early intervention funding for the local authority area of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) was cut by £30 per child this year. Islington, Knowsley and Tower Hamlets, however, three of the country’s most deprived boroughs, had cuts of £100 or more per child. Does the Minister believe that that is a good example of targeting resources for Sure Start and for early intervention at the most disadvantaged?

Decisions about the early intervention grant were made on the same formula as that used by the previous Government, so it is not really acceptable for the hon. Lady to claim that there are specific changes in particular constituencies, and suggesting that there is a political motivation is a little beneath her, actually.

Vocational Qualifications

2. What assessment he has made of the effects of the Government’s reclassification of vocational qualifications. (96383)

We expect that all schools will now offer courses that benefit students, rather than some offering courses that are designed to inflate the school’s league-table rankings.

In North Tyneside, Churchill community college has been deemed by the Government to be one of the top 100 schools in terms of performance, and students taking vocational courses there find that they are provided with the exact skills that local employers want. Will the Secretary of State listen to education and industry professionals and take the opportunity of the curriculum review to strengthen the role of the vocational pathway in order to ensure that all young people are equipped for the demands of our economy?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on having such a strong school—indeed, so many strong schools—in her constituency. It is vital that we ensure that children have the maximum number of opportunities to progress at the age of 16, either on to further study in colleges and universities or into the vocational pathways that may suit them. Professor Alison Wolf’s report provides a strong foundation on which to build for all students of all abilities and aptitudes.

The Government and the Department have acted to allay concerns on the equivalency of some qualifications for the purposes of performance statistics, but will the Secretary of State confirm that the coalition Government are committed to raising the status of vocational education and to recognising the achievements of schools, colleges, teachers and young people?

Absolutely. I am uniquely fortunate in that I have in the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning a colleague who is passionate about that and who is on record in the latest issue of The House Magazine as having said that he has used the word “apprenticeship” in debates in this House more often than any other Member here. The reason he has done so and the reason we are so committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships—[Interruption.] He is a great Minister and he is part of a coalition Government who have presided over the fastest growth in quality apprenticeships under any Government in history.

Does the Secretary of State agree that whether in vocational study, university courses or apprenticeships, the essential thing is that courses are relevant for future employment and, indeed, for future employers?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. One of the problems that we have had in the past is that some awarding bodies have offered qualifications that were deemed to be technical or vocational but in fact were not. We need to ensure that those qualifications, which are robust and respected, are increasingly popular and are used in our schools and colleges.

Emergency Life Support Skills

3. What steps his Department is taking to promote the teaching of emergency life support skills in schools. (96385)

Through non-statutory personal, social, health and economic education, at primary school pupils are taught about basic emergency procedures and where to get help; and at secondary school, about how to develop the skills to cope with emergency situations that require basic first aid procedures, including, at key stage 4, resuscitation techniques. As my hon. Friend knows, we are reviewing PSHE education to consider the core knowledge that young people should have, and we will publish proposals for public consultation later this year.

There has been significant support for the British Heart Foundation’s campaign for emergency life support skills to be included in the curriculum. Many people have called for it to be included in physical education, but what consideration has the Minister given to the merits of teaching it in biology?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. This is something of a personal interest for him, and I pay tribute to him for raising it in this House and in his constituency, where only this week he launched a “Save a Life by Volunteers in Emergencies” scheme for pupils. Our aim, through the review of the national curriculum, is to ensure that the school science curriculum, including biology, is focused on teaching pupils core essential scientific knowledge and about scientific processes, so I do not think that it would necessarily be most appropriate in that context, but it is sensible and helpful for schools to want to teach it to their pupils, and Ofsted will pick up on it as well.

University Technical Colleges

5. What assessment he has made of the role of university technical colleges in bridging the skills gap. (96387)

University technical colleges provide a high-quality technical education. That is why they are a key part of our school reforms and why, in last year’s Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor doubled the funding so that we can open at least 24 UTCs in this Parliament. We intend to make an announcement about the next tranche by the end of May.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the joint bid for a university technical college at MediaCityUK that is backed by the Lowry arts centre, the Aldridge Foundation, the city council and the university—by everybody in the city. The creative industries are vital for our economic growth. Will he therefore ensure that local young people in Greater Manchester and in Salford have the skills, through the university technical college, to take up the opportunities that will be coming over the next few years?

The revival of Salford over the past few years is a model of how urban regeneration should be led, and the right hon. Lady has played a vital part in that. I have to be fair to all the bids, but undoubtedly this bid, given the heavyweight support that it enjoys, will be taken very seriously by the Department and by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.

The JCB university technical college is dismayed by the Secretary of State’s decision to devalue the OCR engineering diploma, which was developed by leading manufacturers such as JCB, Rolls-Royce and Toyota and leading universities such as Cambridge, Loughborough and Warwick. At a time when employers in Teesside and elsewhere are desperate for engineering skills, will he review that decision?

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the role that he has played in ensuring that the steel industry returns to Redcar. Few people in the House have done more for engineering jobs than he has. It is right to affirm the importance of engineering in schools and colleges, but I believe that it should take its place alongside physics, chemistry and biology as a science subject of value. It is appropriate for those subjects to be judged on a level playing field.

Engineering and technology have some of the lowest levels of participation among women of all the professions. Given that university technical colleges are new institutions that have the opportunity to ensure that more girls take part in these subjects, will the Secretary of State set them the aim of ensuring that 50% of their entrants are girls?

I am always wary of targets and quotas that have 50% at their heart. However, the broader point that the hon. Lady makes about the need for all of us to encourage more girls to contemplate a career in design, technology or engineering is very strong. She authored a report last year that was welcomed by the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, which made a series of recommendations that university technical colleges and, indeed, the whole school and college sector should take to heart.

The Secretary of State for Education has won funding of more than £600 million for new free schools. If there are enough good UTC bids, such as the bid from Harlow hospital, Anglia Ruskin university and Harlow college, will he consider using some of that £600 million to boost the number of new UTCs?

Thanks to the generosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and not to any negotiating skill on my behalf, there are sufficient resources in the Department for Education budget to support high quality university technical college submissions. It will be on the quality of the bids that a decision is made.

Teachers (Paperwork)

The Government are committed to reducing the amount of paperwork undertaken by teachers, heads and governors. We have removed the lengthy self-evaluation form and the financial management standard in schools; introduced a streamlined inspection framework; removed unnecessary duties and regulations in the Education Act 2011; cut the volume of guidance issued to schools by more than half; and made it clear that neither the Department nor Ofsted expects teachers to produce written lesson plans for every lesson. We are reviewing all requirements on schools so that they can focus on raising standards, rather than on unnecessary administrative tasks.

I thank my hon. Friend for updating the House on the progress that he is making on the amount of guidance. Will he reassure me that we no longer send teachers and governors thousands of pages of bureaucratic guidance, which at one point was equivalent to reading “War and Peace” from cover to cover three times over?

And significantly less interesting. My hon. Friend is right that we have swept away pages of guidance. We have reduced the admissions code from 160 pages to 50, the assessment guidance from 220 pages to 30, the attendance guidance from 220 pages to 30, and so on. We have reduced the health and safety guidance from 150 pages to eight, and have taken out important guidance on how to do a headcount, why a headcount is important and why schools should ensure that the school minibus is properly maintained.

Many teachers complain about the amount of time they have to spend completing lesson plans. Will the Minister confirm that neither he nor Ofsted require plans for every lesson?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Ofsted does not require written lesson plans for every lesson. Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, has made that absolutely clear.

One of the most demanding tasks that teachers do outside the classroom is marking books, which allows them to monitor the progress of pupils. The applications for free schools that I have seen have an average of 25 pupils per class. If we value teachers in all sections of our education system, should they not all be teaching classes of 25 pupils? If the Government are serious about reducing the work load of teachers, they should take that on board.

I would encourage schools that want to have smaller class sizes and more control over how they are run to adopt academy status.

When the Secretary of State told the Select Committee on Education recently that teachers have to work only 32.5 hours per week, even if they work full time, did he really believe it or was he just trying to cause offence?

I am aware that many teachers do enormous amounts of unpaid overtime. That is a tribute to the professionalism of the teachers in our schools today. It is important that that overtime is not spent filling in voluminous forms or reading huge lever arch files of guidance.

Academies (Worcestershire)

8. How many schools have applied to become an academy in (a) Worcester constituency, (b) Worcestershire and (c) England. (96390)

In the Worcester constituency, three secondary schools have applied for academy status, of which two have successfully converted. In Worcestershire, 25 schools have applied to become academies, of which 19 are open, and there is one sponsored academy open. Across England, there have been a total of 1,861 applications from mainstream funded schools to become academies, of which 1,243 are open, and there are 337 sponsored academies open.

One application that has recently been approved is that of Bishop Perowne college in my constituency, with support from King’s school Worcester a leading local independent school, the university of Worcester, which specialises in teacher training, and a major local employer, Yamazaki Mazak Ltd. Will the Minister join me in welcoming that approach, and will he encourage more such innovative partnerships to bring public and private sector expertise together to offer the best to pupils at our academies?

I am delighted that Bishop Perowne college received its academy order in January to convert to academy status, and that as my hon. Friend says, it will do so with the support of King’s school, the university of Worcester and Yamazaki Mazak. I strongly encourage other public-private partnerships to come forward to support academy conversions and share their expertise in that important part of our school reform programme.

Presumably, the Minister would expect local authorities to have some strategic view of what should happen to academies in their area. Next time he talks to Birmingham city council, and to councillors Les Lawrence and Mike Whitby, if he can find out what their strategy on academies is, I would be grateful if he passed it on to me.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had very good meetings with councillors in Birmingham, and I hope that all local authorities will work constructively with the Department as we seek to tackle underperforming schools in the schools network.

Youth Service

The Government will consult very shortly on revised statutory guidance on local authorities’ duty to secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, a sufficient offer of services for young people. It will propose that a sufficient local offer is one that results in positive feedback from young people on the adequacy and quality of local provision, and positive trends in data indicative of local young people’s well-being and personal and social development.

The Minister will be interested to know that late last year, I welcomed to Westminster a group of lads from the Muslim Community Organisation in Nottingham. They told me about their project and why it is important to them. They told me that they felt the Government did not like young people, because they had cut youth services, and they said that their project was under threat. Will the Minister tell Junaid, Awais, Hussam, Umar and their friends why cuts to youth services have been among the biggest in his Department?

I trust that the hon. Lady, wanting to give a fair representation of what the Government are doing, was very speedy in sending her constituents a copy of “Positive for Youth”, which was published just before Christmas. It is one of the most comprehensive documents bigging up young people produced by any Government ever, and she should be proud to disseminate it among her constituents, as I am mine.

I applaud the Minister on “Positive for Youth”, and last week I was at two voluntary sector youth clubs, Pembroke House and New Image, where there was fantastic talent waiting to be released into the adult community. Will he ensure that every youth club in England, statutory or non-statutory, has all the knowledge that it needs about apprenticeships, training, education and the national citizen service, so that every opportunity can be known by every youngster in every youth club in the country?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. I want a mixed provision of youth services up and down the country, whether in brand spanking new buildings such as the 63 myplace centres, a great investment by this Government, or in well established youth clubs, schools or other buildings. I want young people to have full knowledge about the availability of all those schemes—not just youth services but training opportunities, apprenticeships, the national citizen service and everything that they can do in our communities. “Positive for Youth” is a gateway for young people in this country to see that the Government value them. Our whole society should value them, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that they contribute to society in the future.

Speaking at the National Youth Agency conference last month, the Minister said:

“I know that many people are concerned that youth services have faced disproportionate cuts as councils look to tighten their belts…And, I’ll be honest, I’m concerned too…there is no excuse to neglect youth services, or to treat them as an easy area to make savings.”

However, as a recent parliamentary answer to me showed, many local authorities are making cuts of 30%, 40%, 50% or in some cases 70%, far in excess of the general reduction in local authority spending. What steps is he taking to put his fine words into practice?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for repeating my words, because they are absolutely right. That is why we issued that document—to send out a very clear message—and why we are revising the guidance, which we are consulting on in the next few weeks. She, like every local authority in the country and youth groups, will have the opportunity to have their say on what their local youth services should offer. That is all about young people having a voice and being able to gauge whether they are being treated seriously within their local authorities. This Government are giving them a voice that was not heard under the previous Labour Government.

Workplace Skills Development

11. What assessment his Department has made of the role of schools in preparing children and young people for entering the workplace. (96393)

Ofsted found that more than half the secondary schools inspected in 2010-11 were either outstanding or good in developing workplace and other skills to assist students’ future economic prospects. However, young people should also have access to high-quality and impartial information, advice and guidance. The new national careers service, which will be launched in April, will provide just that.

Does the Minister agree that a diploma in engineering is an important qualification and an important skill for young people? Downgrading that important qualification is, in my view, damaging to foreign manufacturers such as Siemens, which is hopefully about to invest very heavily in offshore wind in my fantastic constituency.

The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to learn—I hope—that I plan to visit Hull on 19 April to meet local employers and interested parties. I am very happy to add him to the list of invitees. We will then take forward just the kind of agenda that he suggests.

If I had known that on Thursday night when I was in Hull I might have told my audience. I didn’t, so I couldn’t, but never mind.

Having done much work in career guidance and helping young people to enter work, I am now working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to do real-life pilot schemes with real-life business advisers. Could I meet the Minister so that we can have the best cross-departmental support for that scheme?

It is absolutely right that we should have that, and to understand that the business of providing information, advice and guidance is about giving people the wherewithal to know that the choices they make will affect their future prospects, how they will do so and how we can help. I am determined that such empirical, independent advice and guidance should be available to all. It is about redistributing advantage.

But how are young children going to be motivated when, as in my constituency, youth unemployment has gone up by 88% in the past 12 months? Where will the jobs come from that schools can use to motivate young children?

It is partly about people recognising the opportunities that exist through the right kind of advice and guidance. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right that economic growth is our key priority—he knows that that permeates all the Government do—but it is absolutely right that we equip people with the right skills on the basis of the right information to make the right choices about job opportunities.

Secondary schools, particularly comprehensives, have a critical role to play in fostering aspiration and getting young people ready for higher education and for work. Has my hon. Friend seen the recent report by the Fair Access to University Group, and does he believe that we can do more to help disadvantaged pupils into our top universities and therefore into our top professions?

Widening access to higher education and learning is at the heart of what I am trying to achieve, but that is not principally about admissions. It is about good advice and guidance; access points to learning; modes of learning; and prior attainment. Let us be clear about how we can widen access and not be hung up on admissions.


Final data for the 2010-11 academic year show that there were 131,700 apprenticeship starts in England by young people aged under 19—the greatest number in modern history. That is an increase of 12.8% in a year and of 32.6% in two years. The whole House will acknowledge that achievement. We are feeding social mobility and nourishing social justice.

I thank the Minister for his huge personal commitment to making the Government’s apprenticeships policy a success—my constituency had more than 900 apprenticeship starts last year. What is his Department doing to make eligible businesses aware that up to 40,000 incentive payments of £1,500 each are available to employers if they take on young apprentices as part of the youth contract?

With the modesty for which my hon. Friend is known, he understated his own involvement in national apprenticeship week, when I understand he shadowed an apprentice working in a pre-school. He is right that we need to get more small and medium-sized enterprises involved, and to that end I am delighted that the Prime Minister announced during national apprenticeship week the extra support that we are providing. Every small business that takes on a young apprentice will get £1,500—something that the previous Government never attempted.

Early Intervention

The Government agree with the hon. Gentleman that early intervention is important to ensure that all children get the best start in life. Ministers have discussed early intervention—including his two reports—in a range of forums, including the Cabinet Social Justice Committee. The Government responded through “Families in the Foundation Years”, which was published last year. We intend to procure an early intervention foundation, as he recommended, through a fair and open competition.

I thank the Minister for her consistent support for the creation of an early intervention foundation, which will take to scale evidence-based policies to help babies, children and young people. Will she update us on the tender process for an early intervention foundation and on where early intervention in general is in the psyche of the Government?

I am hugely grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, help and guidance on this issue. I absolutely agree that there is a moral as well as a financial case for investing in early intervention. It is a priority for the Government. He will be aware that I cannot say too much at the moment about the early intervention foundation, but we are working with other Departments to develop a specification for the foundation and are committed to ensuring that we get best value for money. My Department will issue a public notification shortly, in advance of an open and competitive procurement process.

A challenge for early intervention can be that the beneficiaries are a self-selecting group, so what is my hon. Friend doing, working with local authorities and other Departments, to ensure that those who will benefit most from early intervention get it? Does this not stress again the importance of those decisions being made locally?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman on this point, which is one reason we are about to begin trials of payment by results with local authorities and children’s centres—to ensure that they are focusing on the families who most need early intervention. It is one of a range of areas where we are trying to focus much more on outcomes, rather than just inputs.

The Department for Education has just published an interesting report showing a clear link between poor parenting and antisocial behaviour in children. What is the Minister’s view on the report and its recommendations for more family support and early intervention, and does she not agree that the short-sighted reductions to the early intervention grant, particularly in deprived areas, run counter to her own Department’s findings?

As the hon. Lady might know, last summer we announced that we would trial a new offer of parenting classes for all parents in three specific areas. That will be an interesting exercise, and we shall see what happens and whether we can encourage more people to come forward and take part in parenting support. Of course, children’s centres offer this kind of targeted, highly intensive work for families in many situations, and schools can use the pupil premium to pay for that, should they choose to do so

The House will know that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have done an enormous amount of work raising awareness of the importance of early intervention. We should thank them for that. Does the Minister agree that all Ministers and Government Members should totally support the Government’s welfare reforms?

It is always nice to have friendly fire from one’s own side, isn’t it? I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that I was delighted to see the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions introduce transitional arrangements to support children and families in difficult situations.

Sex and Relationship Education

We are considering sex and relationship education as part of our review of personal, social, health and economic education. We are currently analysing consultation responses received online and from stakeholder engagement meetings and the evidence from national and international research. We intend to announce proposals for public consultation on these findings in the summer term.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the wide range of successful sex and relationship education programmes across the country, including the APAUSE—Added Power and Understanding in Sex Education—programme, will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to preserving autonomy for individual schools in deciding which programmes they adopt?

It is of course this Government’s policy to make sure that we give schools more freedoms and more time within the curriculum to teach pupils in the ways they think most appropriate for maximising the effect, but we also want to see a change of emphasis, with a much stronger focus on respect for others in sex and relationship education, building young people’s capacity to say no to things they do not feel are right, and making sense of the portrayals of sex and relationships to which they are exposed through the media. I hope that innovative schools will do that in a way that best gets that message across to their pupils.

But the most recent statistics show that one in four abortions in this country is to a teenager—a shocking statistic and surely something we must do more about by trying to cut the number of teenage pregnancies in the first place. All the evidence shows that where there is really good sex and relationship education—not just in some schools, but in every single school; not just for some children, but for every single child—we really have a chance of tackling teenage pregnancy. Will the Government not wake up to this and get on with it, and not agree with the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen)?

I think we are all trying to achieve the same thing. The hon. Gentleman mentions a disastrous statistic, but the problem is not just abortions among teenagers: I have been particularly alarmed about the repeat abortions among teenagers, so we must get the message across clearly. I want all children in this country to have access to good quality sex and relationship education. The problem has been that the picture is very mixed. I want more experts from outside schools who have real skills communicating that message to as many children as possible.

A survey of more than 1,000 parents for mumsnet last November found that nine out of 10 parents think there should be a statutory duty on all schools to deliver comprehensive sex and relationship education. I welcome what the Minister says about the importance of relationships, particularly given the worrying statistic showing high levels of abuse and sexual pressure in teenage relationships. Does he think that the relationship aspect should therefore be put on the same footing as the requirement for schools to deliver the facts about sex?

Again, my hon. Friend, who has great expertise in this area, makes some pertinent points. I do not want to pre-empt what the consultation will focus on, given the findings already received. Relationships are absolutely a really important part of this. We have heard a lot about the mechanics of sex; we need to hear much more about the ways sex is carried on through relationships—hopefully consensual. The teaching of sexual consent will be strengthened through the planned revision of PSHE guidance. As I say, relationships are a really important part of it.

The Minister inadvertently and uncharacteristically failed to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). Will he confirm that the responsibility for SRE in the curriculum will remain with individual school governing bodies and parents and not be subject to ministerial fiat?

I will give my hon. Friend the same answer that I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson)—I am not going to pre-empt what the consultation will come up with. When this matter was discussed as part of the then Children, Schools and Familes Bill before the last election, a major consideration of many Conservative Members was that the power of parents to withdraw their children from sex education should remain if they saw fit. I would hope that the quality of sex education would be such that parents would not withdraw their children because they wanted to ensure that they were well informed and confident to make the right choices.

School Curriculum

15. What recent assessment he has made of the breadth and content of the school curriculum; and if he will make a statement. (96397)

The Government are currently reviewing the national curriculum to make sure it is as rigorous as the curricula used in the most successful education jurisdictions in the world. We are, as part of that work, considering which subjects should be included in the national curriculum and the content of what is taught in those subjects. However, we are clear that, whatever the outcome of the review, all schools should teach a broad and balanced curriculum.

It was at the end of 2010 that I wrote to the Minister of State to urge on him the importance of teaching foreign languages at key stage 2 in primary schools. What have the Government done since then to encourage foreign language teaching to primary school children, and when does he think that the national curriculum authority will make a decision on the matter?

Those issues are being addressed in the review, and we will report on decisions as and when they are made. The introduction of the English baccalaureate, however, has done more to encourage the take-up of modern foreign languages in secondary schools than any decision since 2004, when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in government and decided to remove the compulsory element of modern foreign languages. As a consequence of that decision, numbers plummeted.

Is it not the case that all our leading competitors, including Germany and Canada, insist that pupils learn history and modern foreign languages until the age of 16? Will the Government take that into consideration in the curriculum review?

The expert panel report which we published towards the end of last year recommended more compulsion until pupils reached the age of 16, and we are considering that. However, as I said to the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), the English baccalaureate has done more to increase the take-up of modern foreign languages and, indeed, history than any other single measure undertaken by the Government.

Capital Investment (Schools)

For the current spending review period, we have a total capital budget of £17.1 billion. In December I announced capital for 2012-13, including £11 million for schools in Cornwall to provide new places and repair buildings.

Camborne Science and International Academy, which the Secretary of State will recall visiting last summer, has applied for permission to build some new science laboratories under the priority schools building programme. That will cost a fraction of the amount that was originally required under the Building Schools for the Future programme. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when schools have sharpened their pencils and identified savings in that way, they should be given some credit when their applications are assessed?

That is a very deft case, very well put by my hon. Friend. I am well aware that, for a variety of reasons, a number of schools in Cornwall have missed out on the allocation of capital in the past. One of the things that I have learnt in this job is that sometimes when we publish lists of school buildings it is important to wait a wee while just to make sure that they are right.

Two outstanding schools in my constituency, The Bankfield and The Heath, are waiting for a decision on their capital bid applications, but an application has also been made for funds for a free school. Does the Secretary of State think that capital bids for existing schools that are in desperate need of cash should be given priority, or that a free school should be given priority?

It is the judgment of Solomon, is it not? We must ensure that decaying fabric is repaired, but we must also provide high-quality school places. It is not enough simply to invest in existing schools which may or may not be providing high-quality education; it is also critical that we provide a gateway for people who are going to raise the quality of state education through innovative new ways of helping children to do better.

Academy Status (Wilbarston School)

17. What steps he has taken to offer guidance to the parents, pupils, governors and teachers of (a) Wilbarston Church of England primary school in Kettering constituency and (b) other schools in England on becoming an academy. (96399)

Although Wilbarston Church of England primary school may be interested in becoming an academy, as of Friday no formal application had been received. If and when such an application is made, the Department will provide the school with a named contact to help it through the process. That applies to all schools in England which apply to become academies.

Mrs Andrea Cruse, the head teacher of Wilbarston primary school, and Mr Lawrence Dale, the chair of the governors, have requested me to ask the following supplementary question: “What advantages are there for a small, successful primary school which has always enjoyed a productive and beneficial relationship with the local authority in severing those ties to become an academy?”

There is no need for the severing of any ties with local authorities, and that school is free to continue its good relationship with its local authority. The key advantage of becoming an academy is the professional autonomy that comes with academy status, which is valued by heads and teachers alike. They are free to innovate, and they have control over the element of their budget that is currently spent on their behalf by the local authority.

Pupil Premium

18. How many additional children will become eligible for the pupil premium in (a) St Austell and Newquay constituency and (b) Cornwall in the next financial year. (96400)

Our latest estimate, based on the numbers in the January 2011 census, is that 2,970 children will be eligible for the main deprivation and service premium in the St Austell and Newquay constituency, and that 16,050 will be eligible in Cornwall. We will not know how many pupils will be eligible for the pupil premium next year until the number of eligible pupils from the January 2012 school census is confirmed in June.

Representatives of the Newquay association of primary heads, to whom I spoke on Friday, tell me that the pupil premium is making a real difference on the front line, but they are finding it difficult to access the additional support for children in care. How could that process be made swifter?

It is extremely clear that the local authority must pass down to the school the money for every child eligible for the pupil premium, regardless of whether that child is at a mainstream school or an academy. I am happy to investigate specific cases where there are difficulties, and I invite my hon. Friend to write to me with any details.

Academy Status

The Government will help every school that wishes to become an academy, because evidence shows that children do better when schools have the freedom to make their own decisions. The Department has published on its website comprehensive information and guidance on becoming an academy. All schools that apply to become an academy are provided with a named contact within the Department to support them through the conversion process. Schools are also able to apply for a grant to support them with the costs of conversion.

I am grateful for that reply, and I am pleased to be able to tell the Minister that two schools in my constituency have become academies, and they are doing well. However, should not the decision on whether to seek academy status be left entirely to the school and its local community rather than those schools being pressed and bullied, which is becoming far too frequent, particularly in relation to primary schools?

There is no bullying going on and schools are free to adopt academy status, but the Secretary of State and I are clear that we cannot allow schools that have underperformed year after year to continue to do so. That is why we are engaged in a process of working co-operatively with local authorities to convert underperforming schools—particularly the 200 worst performing primary schools—and to bring in an experienced academy sponsor to ensure that the children, who are often in the most disadvantaged parts of the country, have a proper education at long last.

The Darwen Aldridge Community Academy is a school in my constituency that has already achieved academy status. It recently applied to set up a studio school through the same foundation. Will the Minister update the House on when we will have a decision on the first round of bidding for studio schools, and how many applications there have been?

No numbers have yet been announced, but we will announce figures in due course. I wish that project every success. We need a school system that is diverse and that offers a range of educational opportunities to address all children’s interests and abilities.

Topical Questions

Last week I issued some direction on how we can encourage local authorities to prioritise the concerns of children in care who need to be adopted; today my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has issued a written ministerial statement on raising the quality of apprenticeships; and later this week we will be saying more about how we can help children in the weakest primary schools to aspire to a stronger education.

On the subject of apprenticeships, may I thank the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning for his support of apprenticeship standards in his recent visit to my constituency? Could that enthusiasm be extended to support the expansion of the Department’s Let’s stick Together pilot programme, which recognises the value in respect of outcomes of mums and dads sticking together?

I know that the Minister of State enjoyed his visit to Enfield, Southgate and was impressed by the quality of apprenticeships being offered to young people there. I also know that my hon. Friend has been a principal campaigner for supporting the family, and the voluntary organisation he mentions is just one of a number that we need to support in the valuable work they do in helping parents to do right by their children.

Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to read the Daycare Trust’s child care costs survey published today? The trust concludes that extending free early education to 2-year-olds is a step in the right direction, but that cuts to tax credit support and local child care services are two steps backwards. We know that in many areas breakfast clubs have been cut and children’s centres closed. As a matter of urgency will the Secretary of State conduct an audit of child care places across England?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I have not yet had a chance to read the report, but I look forward to doing so. May I take this opportunity to thank the Daycare Trust for the work it has done? It is important that we recognise that the additional investment that has been secured in extra places for disadvantaged 2-year-olds—championed by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), and delivered by the Deputy Prime Minister—has done a great deal, but there are issues that we all need to address to ensure that regulation does not increase the cost of child care and, in particular, that the very poorest have access to the highest quality child care.

The Daycare Trust says that cuts to tax credits are forcing families out of work and into poverty. According to The Times this morning’s, the Secretary of State is one of three senior Conservatives who have plotted to scrap the child poverty measure. Might this be another example of the “friendly fire” to which the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), referred? Instead of trying to move the goalposts by changing the measure of child poverty, is it not time to change course?

I have often been tempted to move the goalposts, as a Queens Park Rangers fan, but I realise that the situation is more serious than that. The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the importance of making sure that we tackle child poverty. Following on from the work done by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and the recent work done by the Government’s adviser on social mobility, Alan Milburn, I believe that the really important thing to do is ensure that when we target child poverty we recognise not only an income measure but access to quality services. That is why it is so important that we make sure that more child care places are available and that those places have people of high quality and good qualifications supporting children to do better.

T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the announcement that further education colleges are to be reclassified as private rather than public bodies demonstrates the genuine progress that the Government have made to free colleges from unnecessary central control? (96408)

Yes, and I have a letter here confirming what my hon. Friend said: the Government have achieved what we set out to do, which was to free further education and sixth-form colleges from unnecessary intervention. The Office for National Statistics decision provides a resounding confirmation of our success in that regard. We are seeing colleges that are trusted, free, ambitious and, at last, treated as grown up.

T7. May I welcome today’s decision by the Secretary of State to allocate £2.7 million to English Heritage to encourage schoolchildren to access local history sites, which is often the best way of helping young people to understand history? Does he now regret the Government’s decision to slash English Heritage’s funding by one third and the absurd decision to leave Stoke-on-Trent, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, off the list of pathfinder sites? (96414)

Funding for English Heritage is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I have never known him to make a wrong decision in his life, so I cannot imagine that he has done anything other than find the funding that English Heritage requires in order to do its superb job even better. As for Stoke, I have a confession to make. The hon. Gentleman invited me to the potteries and I welshed on the deal. I would love to come to Stoke, because I am a huge fan of that city and its contribution to our industrial heritage, and of the way in which he has championed its role as a model both of how we can improve education and of urban regeneration.

T4. Does the Minister agree that the National Audit Office report’s conclusion that supporting apprenticeships, such as through the excellent Beartown apprenticeship scheme in my constituency, which partners schools, local businesses, the chamber of commerce and Plus Dane, can generate a return of £18 for every £1 invested? Does that not confirm the Government’s wisdom of putting apprenticeships at the heart of vocational learning? (96410)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting that fact. As she says, the NAO report, which I have with me, is absolutely clear: for every £1 we spend on apprenticeships, we get a return of £18. Can you think of any aspect of Government policy that represents better value for money than that, Mr Speaker?

T8. To be topical, just a moment ago the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), rightly pointed out the importance of the English baccalaureate in encouraging young people at secondary school to learn modern languages. In order to gain the baccalaureate, young people also have to do well in maths, science and a humanities subject—history or geography. Why not also include religious education as a possible subject here? (96415)

There has been a large written campaign about religious education and I should make the point that we regard RE as a very important part of the curriculum, as it provides a rigorous subject. However, its study is compulsory until 16 and we were concerned that if we had included it as part of the humanities element, weaker schools would have dropped history or geography and focused only on RE. We want a broad and balanced curriculum taught in our schools, including not only a humanities subject, such as history and geography, but RE.

T3. The National Audit Office’s conclusions about apprenticeships are very welcome indeed, but can the Minister assure the House that young people who live in truly rural areas are also benefiting from the scheme? (96409)

My own constituency is one of those truly rural areas—true in every respect—that have benefited. In my constituency, the figure is 86%, in Banbury 33%, in Suffolk Coastal 56% and in Mid Norfolk 59%—across rural Britain, apprenticeships are growing.

The Secretary of State and the whole House will recognise the deprivation in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Haringey and Hackney. Why, then, has the Secretary of State decided to give more money in his pupil premium to Oxfordshire, Surrey and Devon?

We have not. The pupil premium goes to every child eligible for free school meals and is allocated precisely according to need.

T5. During a recent visit to a primary school in Clacton, the head teacher raised with me her concerns about Department for Education guidelines issued in March 2005 on the administration of non-prescription drugs by teachers to those in their care. The guidelines appear to rule out, for example, giving a paracetamol to a child in need of a paracetamol. Is that really the case? It does not seem very common sense or very big society. (96411)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point and I must pay tribute to the trade unions, who have been raising, in a similar tone to my hon. Friend, their perplexity that some of the rules and regulations about the administration of medicines are simply too bureaucratic.

May I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for correcting my vocab earlier? I would hate to be thought guilty of Cymryphobia, especially as someone married to a Welsh girl.

We are very grateful to the Secretary of State for that, for his knowledge and, indeed, for his pronunciation.

Rochdale will get a real-terms increase of less than 1% in its early intervention grant in the next financial year, despite being 25th in the indices of deprivation. Surrey Heath, home to the Secretary of State, is the third least deprived area in the country, yet the local authority is getting a real-terms increase of 7.2%, the biggest of all local authorities. Will the Secretary of State explain to Rochdale people why that is the case when that funding is supposed to tackle deprivation?

It is a fair point, but we are using the formula for allocating money designed by the Government so enthusiastically supported by the hon. Gentleman over 13 years.

T6. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the strong partnership working between MidKent college, based in my constituency, and the university of Greenwich, BAE Systems and the Royal Engineers to bring a university technical college to Medway? (96413)

That sounds like a model of the type of collaboration between local government, industry and schools that we would like to promote and that we are happy to see flourishing under the coalition Government.

Warm words and policy documents—and even Latin—are useless if they are not backed by action. Does the Minister consider that local authorities that have cut youth services completely are providing a sufficient service and, more important, what is he going to do about it?

If the hon. Lady had been listening, she would know that I have said exactly what we are doing about it. We are issuing a consultation in the next two weeks based on the findings that we have had back from youth services, youth workers and voluntary youth organisations. What matters—as I made clear, and as I hope she will agree—is what young people are saying and their experiences. We are giving them the power and the voice to be able to assess and audit their local youth offer, wherever it comes from, and that is a really important development.

T9. The Secretary of State will remember his visit to the wonderful Wellington academy, of which I am a governor. The Wellington academy is not eligible for the Teach First scheme, but we are very interested in setting up our own version of it. What advice could he give us? (96416)

I was tempted to say, “Come up and see me sometime.” My hon. Friend and I should meet, because Teach First is expanding and it is expanding nationwide. We have tripled the funding for that admirable charity and the organisation received plaudits from all three major parties in their election manifestos. We want to ensure that schools that serve very challenging areas, as that academy does, benefit from the superb work done by the organisation.

Students who have taken the English baccalaureate and been successful do not understand why they cannot have some acknowledgment of that success in the form of a certificate. The Department for Education website states:

“We are not currently issuing certificates. We are examining possible arrangements for issuing certificates and will confirm decisions in due course.”

Can the Secretary of State tell me when that decision is likely to be made, because students in Stockport would welcome the opportunity to have a certificate?

I am very grateful for the hon. Lady’s support for the English baccalaureate. We are talking to schools about how we can best recognise those students who succeed in the baccalaureate and generally.

Given the importance of the UK science base to our innovation economy, does the Minister agree that we need to do all we can to support basic science learning in the curriculum and to inspire our young scientists through industry? Will he join me in welcoming the Sir Isaac Newton maths and science free school in Norfolk and my campaign for a Norfolk science day to bring industrial researchers together with our teachers?

Yes, I have to say that Miss Rachel de Souza, the head teacher of the Ormiston Victory academy, who I understand is behind this initiative, is a visionary school leader. I absolutely agree that we need to do more to recognise how we can encourage mathematical and scientific learning among young people. The model of the 16-to-18 maths free schools, with which Ormiston Victory academy is engaging, is one of many ways of encouraging that helpful trend.

In respect of the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) on early intervention, do the Government accept that progress in education and the putting into place of their plan in response could be undermined if there are not sufficient assessments in the health service? Can we look forward to greater integration?

Making sure that services join together properly is absolutely key to getting early intervention right. That is precisely why we are rolling out 4,200 extra health visitors and making sure that they work very closely with Sure Start children’s centres. That is really critical. Similarly, the work we are doing on reforming the early years foundation stage, making sure there is more information available to parents, and the check at two and a half-years will really help with all the points the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

I welcome the reforms to reduce the amount of paperwork that teachers have to complete, but may I ask the Secretary of State to focus particularly on newly qualified teachers? The amount of paperwork they have to complete in that first year is putting good entrants off joining this important profession.

That is a typically acute point from my hon. Friend. We are seeking to reform initial teacher training at the moment to make sure that there is more practical, hands-on experience of the classroom and that we reward high-flying graduates who want to enter the noblest of professions.

Could the Minister tell the House how many civil servants at the Department for Education are working on the introduction of free schools?

About 100. I popped into the Department on Saturday to see them as many had chosen, voluntarily, to work over the weekend. It is often the case in newspapers and elsewhere that criticism is directed towards public servants and public service, but the fact that people chose, of their own free will to come in and work to ensure that new schools could be established in areas of deprivation was for me an inspiration. It made me proud of the fact that I am the Secretary of State in a Department that has so many brilliant people working for it.

The number of apprentices in the north-east has gone up from 18,000 to 34,000 in my area. I added one when I became the first MP to employ an apprentice in my Hexham office. What more can the Minister responsible for apprenticeships do to encourage others, including MPs, to take on apprentices?

The answer is simple: we must evangelise the case for apprenticeships with all our might and power. It is about numbers but it is about standards too. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to our actions to raise standards, get small businesses involved and let people know that all this is good for apprentices, good for businesses and good for Britain.

I have been contacted by one of my constituents who adopted a child from care. She faces losing the only support she gets from the state—her child benefit. Given that the Secretary of State wants more people to adopt children from care and that they often have many needs that are ongoing for X number of years, will he put aside more money to support such children and their families in the years ahead?

That is a very good point. One thing we are looking at is how we can improve support for parents who do the right thing and adopt. We are looking at a range of ways of doing that. We are also looking at ways in which everything from the schools admissions system to the training of social workers can help to support those parents who are doing such a fantastic job by adopting children.

I have previously raised concerns about the way in which creativity and culture are being squeezed out of our schools. Tomorrow, in an attempt to resolve that problem, the Henley report into cultural education will be published. Will it get the Department’s full support and the funding needed for its implementation?

I do not want to upstage the curtain call tomorrow at the Royal Opera House for the Henley report, and our response to it is being launched. However, with your permission, Mr Speaker, may I just say that Darren Henley has produced a fantastic report? The leadership shown by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), has been fantastic. The leadership shown by the Arts Council England, English Heritage and a variety of other groups that are interested in enriching the cultural life of the nation has also been wonderful. I am looking forward to the launch of the report, and I know that the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) has played a significant part behind the scenes in making it so good.

Time is against us, but I want to call someone who has not asked a question. I have a choice of two. I know the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) will forgive me on this occasion. I call Jessica Lee.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate all those at Long Eaton school in Erewash on the recent opening of the Malcolm Parry observatory? It is exactly the sort of innovative project that will encourage budding scientists of the future, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to give his seal of approval.

Not only would I like to give my seal of approval, but I hope to visit Long Eaton before too long.